Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Peace Not Walls

Bishop Younan’s Video Christmas Greeting

ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan, President of the Lutheran World Federation, gives a Christmas video greeting from Jerusalem:

Don’t forget the simulcast Christmas service between Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and the National Cathedral in Washington, to be broadcast at 10 am EST here.

LWF President’s Christmas Message

Children hold hands in Za’atri Refugee Camp in northern Jordan, caring for thousands of Syrian refugees.

Lutheran World Federation President Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land, released his Christmas message this week, urging people to think of Christmas as a time to remember the refugees among us, even as the Christ child was born to a refugee family.

We can see the faces of the Holy Family today in refugee families forced to flee from Syria into the Za’atri refugee camp in Jordan, in Somali refugee families in the Dadaab complex in northeastern Kenya, and in other refugees throughout the world. In Europe today, we see the Holy Family in the experiences of Roma communities. An ancient nomadic culture, Roma are still exposed to marginalization simply because they do not conform to dominant culture.

Many refugees are uprooted with little hope for a solution. I am one of them, a Palestinian who carries a refugee card. I know what it means to be rejected, neglected and stateless. My heart breaks for every refugee, for every family forced from their home. In this Christmas season, we know that Christ finds his manger in every person who seeks asylum, in each of the nearly 44 million refugees and internally displaced people throughout the world. Forced to escape Herod’s persecution, Christ experienced abuses of power and the effects of armed struggle.

The child of the manger continues to understand the plight of every refugee wherever they are. The duty of the church is to be a safe haven for all refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. To them we say, “Do not be afraid. A Savior is born to you and the whole world.” They must find a place in our inn.

We in the Lutheran communion continue to commit ourselves to accompanying God’s people, especially those who are marginalized and displaced. Our call is to provide refuge from violence and poverty, shelter in the storms, and shade from the heat. Today, the LWF is directly serving nearly 1.5 million refugees throughout the world. That means that each of our 143 member churches is responding to the needs of 10,500 refugees. This generous spirit reflects the strength of our communion working together to respond to God’s call to welcome the stranger.

Read the full Christmas message | Read LWF press release


The Writing on the Wall

From Pastor Fred Strickert of the English-speaking Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem comes a blog post, the Writing on the Wall:

A report “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” was recently released by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The report sees more hostile divisions within Israeli society between views of openness and exclusion.  It states, “At home Israel faces increasing social and political divisions between those who still cherish a vision” expressed by its 1948 founders versus “the growing demographic weight of the religiously conservative Haredim and settler movement.”

While concerns about the influence of fundamentalism and extremism in the Muslim world is a major topic in the Western Media–and of which we are very much aware and concerned–the following are concerns that confront us daily in the local Israeli press, as can be seen in a selection of Haaretz photos below.

A sign in West Jerusalem says “Lehava only hires Jewish Workers.”

Pastor Strickert takes us from photos wiping out Arab names on signs, to Death to Arab graffiti to a sign posted on the LWF Augusta Victoria property on the Mt. of Olives announcing that people have 60 days to comment on plans that are being fast-tracked to build an eight-story IDF college right next to Augusta Victoria in East Jerusalem.  Leaders of the Mt. of Olives Housing Project, which will serve the community by providing affordable housing, a community center, an elderly center and a sports complex, have been trying for years to get authorization and building permits to build their project, for which they already have significant funds raised.

Advent: Reflections from Bethlehem and devotional materials


Pastor Mitri Raheb of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem shares an advent greeting from the Holy Land. Christmas Lutheran does a simulcast Christmas Service between Bethlehem and the National Cathedral in Washington DC each year.  Find out more about this year’s simulcast on Saturday, Dec. 22 at 10 am EST.   Check out the new website for Bright Stars of Bethlehem, a US organization that supports the work of DIYAR Consortium, begun by Pastor Raheb in cooperation with  the ELCJHL.

In another article, Pastor Raheb reflects on the Christmas story in his hometown of Bethlehem:

Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded from three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall.  So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.

Full article

On the way to celebrate what happened in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, let us not forget the people who yearn for peace with justice now in Bethlehem and all over the Holy Land. Here are some Advent reflections by various people and organizations to help us remember:



The Biblical Text in the Context of Occupation

The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb has edited a new book called The Biblical Text in the Context of Occupation: Towards a new hermeneutics of liberation.  A wide variety of scholars write on the importance and meaning of the biblical narrative in the midst of occupation and the need for liberation in the Palestinian context.  Read more about it and find it soon on

Here is the table of contents:

1. Toward a New Hermeneutics of Liberation : A Palestinian Christian Perspective    Mitri Raheb

2. Engaging the Palestinian Theological-Critical Project of Liberation: A Critical Dialogue   Fernando F. Segovia

3. Palestinian Theology: Between Construction and Identification: A Comparative Analysis of the Theology of Naim Stifan Ateek and Mitri Raheb      Peter Lodberg

4. Toward an Emancipatory Palestinian Theology: Hermeneutical Paradigms and Horizons   Luis N. Rivera-Pagán

5. (Home)Land, Diaspora, Identity, and the Bible in Imperial Geopolitics:   What does the Asia-Pacific Region have to do with Israel-Palestine?    Eleazar S. Fernandez

6. Interpreting the Bible, Interpreting the World:  Anglo-American Christian Zionism and Palestinian Christian Concerns Robert O. Smith

7. The Hermeneutical Predicament: Why We Do Not Read the Bible in the Same Way and Why it Matters for Palestinian Advocacy    Julia M. O’Brien

8. Talmudic Terrorism in Bethlehem   Santiago E. Slabodsky

9. One Text, Many Meanings: Reading a non-Zionist Judaism from the Hebrew Bible   Steven Friedman

10. The Contribution of Hermeneutics to Peace and Reconciliation     J.H. (Hans) de Wit

11. Arab Christian Fundamentalist Reading of the Book of Daniel:  A Critique     Munther Isaac

12. Biblical Hermeneutics in the Kairos Palestine Document     Jamal Khader

13. The Context of the Christians of the Arab World as a Key to Biblical Interpretation according to the Six First Pastoral Letters of the Eastern Catholic Patriarchs      Rafiq Khoury

14. I Am a Presbyterian Christian: Toward a Dialogical Contextual Hermeneutics   Patricia K. Tull

15. What has the Bible to do with us?   Erik Aurelius

16. The Theological and Historical David: Contextual Reading     Samuel Pagán

17. The Ambiguity of Identity and Responsibility toward the Other       Dexter Callender, Jr

18. “Contact Zone”: Exploring Land, Liberation, and Life      Yak-Hwee Tan

19. The Dignity of Resistance in Solidarity:   The Story of Rizpah   Allan Boesak

The Power to Share Stories

I want to share with you a poetic reflection shared by Aisea Taimani, one of the leaders in the 99 Collective, a young adult led movement of the Church that seeks to practice and struggle for radical hospitality for all people. Aisea was providing some perspective on the Kony 2012 controversy, with a link to this excellent piece on the Sojourners blog, titled “Who’s Telling the Story.” Here is Aisea’s comment:


if you simplify my story…
you miss out on the beauty of its complexity.

if you sensationalize my story…
you miss out on…


s l o w t o s p e a k.

and if you tell my story,
please tell my version, my narrative, my truth.

when you do, you give meaning to my existence.

The Kony controversy and Aisea’s poetic plea is important for a broad variety of engagements with our complex world. Those of us outside the Middle East who have become involved in efforts to respond to the Israeli-Palestinian situation must take time to reflect on the question of who speaks for whom.

Palestinian boys engaged by the International Day for Sharing Life Stories

This question came to the fore over the past week or so with the Wall Street Journal’s publication of an editorial by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States. The piece, titled “Israel and the Plight of Mideast Christians,” asserted, in effect, that Muslims are targeting Christians for persecution throughout the Middle East, including in the West Bank and Gaza. The editorial then pivoted to suggest that this Islamic persecution, rather than the policies and practices of the Government of Israel, is the primary cause of Palestinian Christian suffering.

The next week, the Journal published four letters responding to Oren (including one from me). The basic theme of the letters—two of which were from Palestinian Christians—was that Oren had neglected the perspectives of Palestinian Christians themselves. Oren seeks to establish his standing to share Palestinian Christian perspectives by noting his past work as an Israeli government adviser on inter-religious affairs and his encounters with Christians in that role. As the content of the letters attest, however, these experiences in Oren’s past have not led him to communicate in ways that, according to Aisea, “give meaning to” Palestinian Christian existence.

As a representative of the Government of Israel, Oren carries immense power. In his attempts to shape American perceptions of the Israeli-Palestinian situation (the Journal regularly publishes his editorials), Oren is assisted by the best researchers and the most sophisticated wordsmiths within the government and an array of organizations committed to defending the prerogatives of his state. These “experts” work assiduously to frame the boundaries of acceptable inquiry, even as they appropriate Palestinian Christian research and perspectives to their own cause (even to the point of ultimately silencing excellent Palestinian Christian studies on their community’s demographics like those found here and here. Oren’s editorial is an exercise of state power against the interests of a population made more vulnerable by that state’s own actions.

While not as obvious as that held by a state ambassador, most of us involved with the Peace Not Walls campaign are tempted to wield power in similar ways. Every time we tell the story of Israelis or Palestinians (or, for that matter, Syrians or Egyptians) most of us are representing another person’s story. And that representation is an exercise of power.

To work toward justice, it is often necessary to tell another person’s story. As Proverbs tells us, those who have power are called to “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute” (31:8). The three pillars of the Peace Not Walls campaign—Accompaniment, Awareness-building, and Advocacy—each depend on building solidarity and empathy through engagement with human stories. Telling other people’s stories is necessary. The question, though, is HOW those of us who have power choose (and the ability to choose is the essence of power) to tell that story.

Are we telling their story to advance our own agendas? Are we telling the stories to help ourselves feel better about ourselves, so we can distance ourselves from other forms of power? Are we placing our companions (the ones who have asked us to share their stories) at the center of our narrative? Are we doing justice to them and their suffering?

Our news media are filled with examples of those who hold power using other people’s narratives to advance agendas aimed at preserving power. Even if we are not accustomed to acknowledging our power, our efforts to engage in solidarity with persons more vulnerable than ourselves must practice the discipline of being “quick to listen and slow to speak.” And in this we will see glimpses of the New Heavens and the New Earth.

Egyptian Christians Say Christian Political Party Is Not Solution

I encourage you to read this report from a recent meeting in Washington, DC, hosted by the World Evangelical Alliance. Two of the quoted speakers, Dr. Atef Gendy and Dr. Andrea Zaki, are close companions of the ELCA in Egypt.

“Joseph also went. . . along with Mary, his wife. . . who was expecting a child.” (Luke 2:4-5)

These words are taken from the Christmas Eve sermon from Pastor Fred Strickert, the ELCA missionary who serves at the English-speaking Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem.  On Christmas Eve, the Arabic, German and English-speaking congregations join together at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (below) for an international service.  Pastor Fred preached this year’s sermon: 

‘And so the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’  (John 1:14)  Among us in our world filled with refugees and immigrants.

The child of a refugee family finding hospitality and welcome in Bethlehem, just as the church today accepts the challenge of welcoming the stranger today.  Fred Otieno, from the Church in Nairobi, recently said reflecting on his 18 hour a day, seven day a week position as camp coordinator at the Dadaab Refugee Camp, ‘God has a purpose for us being here to make a difference in the lives of these people, so we must try and help them enjoy their stay, because at the end of the day we all need one another.’ 

This is the message that goes out from the Bethlehem manger, “At the end of the day we all need one another.”

  • Christmas is not about how much we can accumulate and horde, but about how much we can give away, sharing ith those in need. 
  • Christmas is not about walls that divide, security that ntimates, and policies that humiliate, but about an attitude toward life in a spirit which loves the other as our self.
  • Christmas is not even about safe, romantic, idyllic tales of long ago, but it is about Christ coming into our midst, now, in the present moment.
  • Christmas is about welcoming Jesus into our midst, as we welcome the least among us, as we show hospitality to the stranger, for then we may discover that we have been entertaining angels unawares, or even God’s own son. 

Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem.




Read full sermon






Ecumenical Patriarch and WCC Call for Religious Freedom

Participants of the consultation on freedom of religion with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, Archbishop Alois Kothgasser and Metropolitan Gennadios of Sassima. Photo from WCC website.

30 experts on religious rights from 23 different countries are attending “Freedom of Religion and Rights of Religious Minorities,” a conference sponsored by The World Council of Churches (WCC) Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and hosted by the Ecumenical Patriarch.  The conference will end Dec 2. 

In a presentation to the gathering, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I said there must be respect for the “inherent rights of all human beings and their aspiration and rights of religious freedom should be important components to sustain tolerance among all God’s creation.”

“We are called to promote dialogue among all communities and peoples to create peace, harmony and tolerance in a world that is faced with violence, conflicts and religious hatred”, the Patriarch said.

Read more about the WCC”s activities in:

Conference in Bethlehem for Evangelicals in March, 2012





In March 2012, a unique Christian International Conference will take place in Bethlehem, Palestine, titled: Christ at the Checkpoint – Hope in the Midst of Conflict. The conference is organized by Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, an evangelical Christian institution, and it is the second time the College has hosted such a conference.  It will be one of the biggest gatherings of evangelical Christians in the Middle East ever to take place.

Among the confirmed speakers for 2012 are John Ortberg, Lynne Hybels (Willow Creek), Shane Clainbore (Simple Way), Tony Campolo, Ron Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action), Samuel Rodriguez (National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference), Chris Wright (Langham Partnership International), Chris Seiple (Institute for Global Engagement), Ken Sande (Peacemaker Ministries), Sang Bok David Kim (chairman of the Asia Evangelical Alliance and the World Evangelical Alliance), and many more.

In addition to the international speakers, local Palestinian and Messianic Jewish leaders will share their own experiences and offer diverse perspectives. Participants will meet Palestinian Christians, and be able to listen and see first-hand the realities on the ground, as seen through the eyes of the people.

The first conference generated much interest and debate and called for evangelicals to work towards peace and justice in Palestine and Israel. It also challenged the traditional stereotypical lens through which Western Christians have looked at the Middle East in general.  According to the report from the conference, there was

a Biblical critique of dispensational theology and repudiation of an exclusive theology of the land that marginalizes and disenfranchises the indigenous people. The conference affirmed the strategic role of the Palestinian Evangelical Church in justice, peacemaking and reconciliation. The conference speakers repudiated both Christian Zionism and Anti-Semitism. 

As Carl Medearis put it,

If your end-times theology trumps the clear commands in Scripture to love neighbours and enemies, then it is time to rethink your theology.

Read more about the conference or register here.